Klaatu barada... oh, darn it!

Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Year: 1951
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe and Sam Jaffe

When I was 10 or 11 years old, this movie played regularly on late night TV. I must have seen it half a dozen times in one summer. The alien nature of Klaatu (Michael Rennie) fascinated me and the giant robot Gort (Lock Martin) scared the bejesus out of me! Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray) gave us characters that could keep this grounded in reality.

I loved it.

I still do. Today, it's probably my all-time favorite movie.

Don't even mention that travesty with Keanu Reeves. The less said about it, the better.

The Flaws

There's a point when the crowd surrounding the spacecraft all run away in fear. The director decided to overcrank the camera. Instead of looking panicky, they just look like goofy characters in a Keystone Kops movie.

The "metal" of the giant robot Gort was actually made of foam rubber that was painted to look like aluminum. To get Lock Martin in and out of the suit, there had to be a means of opening and closing it. So they made two different versions: one that had the opening in the front and one that had the opening in the back. In most scenes, the director and editor kept a good eye on things but there was at least one scene when we can see the opening in the suit.

The actor who played Gort was tall but he wasn't strong. He didn't have the strength to carry Patricia Neal so the filmmakers had to find a solution. They had two: a lightweight dummy of Patricia Neal that worked remarkably well for its scenes. But when they wanted to show her face as she was being carried, the filmmakers suspended her on a harness with wires. And, yes, the wires are clearly visible in a scene.

Why These Flaws Don't Matter

Yes, this movie is dated and a product of its time but it transcends that. When the world's scientists come together, we see men and women of all races from around the world. That was really something to see when I first saw it in the early 1970s and it must have been even more impactful when the movie was released in 1951.

The message the movie delivers is an admonition that we, as a species, need to behave ourselves. Now, nearly 70 years after the movie's original release, that lesson is even more important. Klaatu's smile at Helen says that he has hope for our species. It ends on a note of warning with a hint of optimism.


  1. Agree completely...! This movie is on my list of all time top favorites...!

    As a kid, and a budding scale modeler, I remember taking a paint can lid and gluing a plastic dome-shaped object on top to make my own saucer..!

  2. That's awesome!

    To this day, Gort's visor raising and that light going back and forth make me nervious.


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